beauty, Life in General, makeup, men, Shakespeare

Skipping Middle Age

 

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older and softer

Recently I posted a picture of myself with no make up or photo shop tricks, and a fan from my movie days commented, “Wow! You look so different.”

Really? I look different than I did thirty-five years ago after teams (meaning multiple people in each) of hair and wardrobe and makeup and lighting and camera experts worked on me for hours to get that perfect shot?

Shocker.

Now, I don’t think he meant it meanly, but it gave me pause. Should I be insulted? No, because he’s absolutely right. Should I be amused? Oh yeah, because it feels much better (and is much smarter) than feeling hurt and indignant for denying the superior forces of gravity, time, and ‘nature’s changing course, untrimmed,’ as young Will would have put it in a sonnet.

Face it. Or should I say, Wrinkly face it. I look different and you will too.

Because it goes like this—and really quickly by the way.

You’re young, you’re naïve enough to get away with stupid mistakes, (live and learn, you shrug as you laugh off getting called out for pretending to be an expert on some shit that turns out to be some stranger’s dead wrong opinion you overheard in a coffee shop) you’re healthy, you’re gorgeous…

and then you aren’t.

Why stretch that excruciating transition out over thirty or forty years? Why torture yourself by denying the inevitable? Why beat yourself up at every one of those learning curves? All those middle aged ‘firsts’ that smack you upside the head because you were actually delusional enough to think you were going to be young and cool forever.

I’m talking about firsts like:

The first time you realize that cute guy or girl doesn’t just not notice you, they don’t even see you.

The first time you go to your doctor and instead of offering solutions, she just says, “These things happen as you age.”

The first time you get that AARP packet, (and it won’t be your last, those people are ruthless!)

The first time you realize you’d rather sit your ass down and watch kids play instead of challenging them to a race across the monkey bars. (Although I do still love a good playground!)

The first time you meet a twenty-year old who says you remind her of her grandmother. Her grandmother! And you realize you could easily be.

Take some advice from 56 year old who had a really good run in the young and stupid years, and who is now happier than any other time by a factor of at least 10.

Ready? Now focus because this is profound, I mean this is some seriously deep shit. Here it is.

When you get to about 40 say, “Fuck it. I’m old.”

Skip all that bemoaning and worrying, and suffering for the loss of your figure, hair, mind, sexual attraction, ability to blame your youth for your ignorance and/or bad behavior, and being able to read anything smaller than the top line of an eye chart in noon sunshine. And you get to enjoy all this while you gain weight, forgetfulness, jowls, and wrinkles that look like a compressed trail map of Yellowstone National Park complete with accurate topography. And let me tell you, if you’ve never hiked Yellowstone, there are thousands of criss-crossing trails, glacial ridges, mountains, valleys, and not a few geysers.

Brace yourself baby. Your ego is going to take a hit.

You used to eat spicy food, now you can’t. You used to drink all the tequila you wanted and bound out of bed the next day. (Can I get a white wine spritzer?) You used to be able to wear a bikini with pride, now it takes a certain amount of denial verging on belligerence, or at the very least a tankini.

Prescriptions take the place of most recreational drugs. (Notice the use of ‘most’ wink wink. CBDs rock for menopause and arthritis!)

For some unknown reason, you will need to blow your nose all the time. Sure, I had the same problem when I was 18 and 19, but when you snort a gram or two of cocaine every day that can happen. Now, the only white powder I use on a regular basis is Dr. Scholl’s moisture absorbent foot powder.

Dancing until two was an every night occurrence. I’m still up every night at 2 am, but now it’s to go pee.

You have to be on LSD to pretend you are still 29 and expect other people to buy into it. Your thought process there approaches the hallucinatory and the odds are strong that it will be a bad trip.

Let’s look at this from another angle. I’ve always been mystified why women lie and say they are younger than they are. The logic is lost on me. If you are, say, 50, and you lie and say you are 42, you risk people thinking, “Damn, she is not aging well at all!” The best you can hope for is someone complimenting your plastic surgeon. But if you are 50, but tell people you are 59, it’s far more likely someone will think and even say, “Wow! She looks fantastic!” Of course the unspoken finish to that comment is, ‘for her age.’ I mean, if what you’re worried about at my age is people notice that you’re aging—which translates, let’s be honest, to being vain—then you need to think this mo-fo through.

What are you grieving? Oh no, boo hoo, as you age you’ll loose the leering, sleazy admiration of jerks who think you exist solely for their sexual gratification. How ever will you survive the loss? “Alas I confront the gaping void! Such tragedy befalls me! Oh woe, calamity, the end of all I hold dear! Darkness descends, beauty fades and my worth is ended!”

Can we just take a moment of silence for your mental sanity, and your values?

Of course that’s what we get as a country for equating youth with beauty and beauty with happiness.

Talk about setting yourself up.

The moral of the story is; get the f’ over yourself. You are going to age, and as you do so you will begin to disappear more and more in the eyes of youth and a societal ethics you helped to create by valuing your own youth and beauty above things of actual importance. Will you panic and cling to the illusion that you can stop the clock? Or will you relax and enjoy the easy fall into shorter walks and birthday cakes that increasingly resemble burning man less the fun drugs and nudity? What is your option to aging? I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Got it? Yes, the option is death. And whether you take the longer way or the express, your ticket disembarks at the same destination, so you might as well enjoy the ride.

You get to choose when you make your wish. Will you use that flame to set yourself on fire and end the shame of, dare I speak the word, unattractiveness? Or will you use the light of experience, of years, to be enlightened?

Is there an up side to living to be less physically attractive? What can we learn from all these bonus years on the planet?

Lots. You don’t have to impress anybody, and you learn to be fine with that.

You learn to say, “I don’t know,” and be fine with that.

You learn to be fine, in a completely different way.

You get to be who you are.

Finally, at long last,

You can be who you want to be.

Hello old friend!

Oh, it’s me.

 

Shari, August 19, 2017

 

 

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, mental illness

Making Friends with Dragons.

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This is about fear and loathing. Not that I have any, of course. Who would ever admit that? That would make me wrong, and don’t we all loathe it when that happens!

Except…I’ve been working on some meditations lately to help get down to the ‘heart of the matter,’ and it all comes to this, my deepest, darkest fear is that I will not be grateful enough, that fear of being unloved will smother my loving spirit, and that because of those fears, I will not succeed in being and giving all I can. I will fail at the only thing that is truly important—Being human.

Weird, right? The funny thing is that I know it’s okay to be afraid. You can’t ever be brave if you’re never afraid. The biggest challenge is to forgive yourself for being afraid and all the bad stuff that creates. It’s perfectly natural to be an emotional beast, it’s just become the norm to not understand what that means. We aren’t our ego, our ego is terrified, all the time, because it relies on everything outside of who we are for validation. That’s like tying strings to every organ and limb in your body and giving total strangers the strings.

Ah, dragons, spitting fire and smelling of sulphur. They don’t live out in the open, they live in caves, inside of us, of course. Do you feel angry? Peel back a layer and you’ll most likely find fear. Do you feel fear? Peel back another layer and you’ll find you are afraid of not being loved, (alone) or death, (non-existence.)

What silliness. I truly believe that we are made of love and energy, that’s our natural state, and it’s the disconnecting from what we really are that brings on all the physical contractions and stress that make us ache emotionally. Then, since we don’t want to feel that, we try to shove that back down into the dark, back to the caves, and then… it seethes until we can feel the dragon’s breath licking at our very core. What do we do when that happens?

Blame everyone else of course.

But, really, whose fault is that? Well, our own, obviously. If we aren’t self-referring we are nothing but targets for every stranger on the street or social media. Someone approves of you? You feel good. Someone disagrees with you, you feel miserable and unworthy, often lashing out to try to defend the non-defendable.

And why is it indefensible? Because it isn’t who you are. It’s only someone else’s opinion, and that always says more about them than you. But what are you ‘saying’ about yourself? We’ve been so brainwashed by religion and consumerism in this country that we now base our worth on what we own, whom we feel superior to, and what other people tell us to think.

Silliness personified! So today I stand here proudly to  declare, I am afraid! (sometimes) I am unlovable! (well, that’s what my mom’s disapproval taught me at a very young age, not her fault.) I am ungrateful! (I forget to be happy and count my blessings, get stressed about stupid things.)

Isn’t that wonderful? To know these things, to embrace them, is to understand that most, no all, of my reactions are based on conditioning that is as old as I am. And that’s getting up toward six decades. The only way to stop that chain reaction is to accept it, embrace it, and fundamentally rethink and re-feel that energy.

Look that dragon in the eye and shake paws with it.

It’s all about learning.

The other day someone told me on facebook not to get my feelings hurt by people who were being viciously insulting (lashing out in fear) instead of presenting any valid point in a discussion. I wasn’t insulted, because those people’s opinions are about themselves, not me. That’s almost always true, I’ve found. Someone says I’m jealous of them and guess what? Since I know nothing about them, I assume that there’s more than a little transference going on there.

So will you wait until everyone ‘likes’ you or ‘agrees’ with you before you are happy and at peace? Take a number and bring snacks, because eternity is a long time to spend in a waiting room. Seriously, it’s worse than the dentist.

Everyone sees things differently, we all see others and their actions through filters. And we all have dragons. As I see it, my only good choice is to saddle that puppy up and go for the ride of my life!

Meanwhile, the days are speeding past, people need to be loved, encouraged, supported, or sometimes just calmed down a notch. (Once again, not me of course, I’m always calm and I never go off. No I do not, stop saying that! You just don’t understand me. I hate you, you’re so mean to me, it’s all your fault. Poor me, no one loves me…) Uh…sorry, got caught in the spin cycle again and had to remind myself to breathe. And yes, a few flames did flicker out of my nostrils.

Imagine a day where we all smiled at each other and tried to be helpful in some small way.

Would you feel safer? Happier?

Would you like other people better?

Would you like yourself better?

 

Then get started. Meet your dragon, and bring a lasso.

 

Shari, July 24th, 2016

 

 

Acting & Experiences, art, authors, beauty, creative inspiration, Life in General

Relevant

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Who I am Now!

What makes us relevant in life? Social media is a funny thing, so many people use it to try create some sense of worth about their ex-careers or their current lives, but it doesn’t really change the fact that if they aren’t— they aren’t. That’s a bit convoluted, so let me explain.

If you had any kind of celebrity, even for a minute, as an athlete, an actor, writer, musician, business owner, then there are most likely people who would listen to what you had to say or look at what you posted for that reason. That kind of interest is superficial and wears off fast, but to continue to be relevant, you have to have something else to offer.

Sure, it’s easy at eighteen to be valued for your looks and your sex appeal, lots of people make a career out of that, then as they age, (and you will too) and they lose their sense of worth. Suddenly they’ve gone from being admired and envied to criticised and shunned. I’ve watched so many people struggle in desperation to try and maintain a level of public interest when they no longer have anything legitimate to offer, and that’s because what they were offering didn’t have true value.

As you age and grow, your priorities must mature and grow. I can’t imagine having the same values I had decades ago. How sad would that be? I’m fifty-five, do I really need people to tell me how sexy I am? (I have a husband who does plenty of that, and that’s great, don’t me wrong, but I don’t need it from anyone else.)

You see, having been on the cover of a magazine, or acted on a TV show that no longer exists, made some people think I had some kind of  social relevance. The truth is, those things did nothing to help anyone. They left no mark on the world. I didn’t cure any diseases by getting that attention or showing up on a set. I didn’t feed hungry people, provide shelter to the homeless, nothing. Even when I was doing those things, I wasn’t any more important than anyone else, less so in many cases, but that’s a hard concept to grasp in a country where youth, fame and money have been shoved down your throat as the best things you can ever achieve.

I love beauty. I love art in all forms. Personally, if I see a beautiful woman of any ethnicity, weight or age, I usually make a point to tell her so. Sometimes, they look surprised, but more often, the women I admire have so much more going on than looks that they get it. They have confidence, style, class, intelligence, purpose, and kindness. That is what I find beautiful.

As a writer, my purpose has changed. Thankfully, looks don’t enter into it, so I can return to what I always loved the most, creativity and communication. I strive to find a subject that can help people see themselves and others in a new light. That’s our job as authors, to shine the light on the inside. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and you can’t judge a person by the size of their breasts or the rip of their six pack. I mean, you can, but it says way more about you than it does about the person being judged.

So what makes me relevant now? The fact that I may have something to say, some words of encouragement, good ideas for how to break through a writer’s block, a helpful hint about mothering teenagers, or even a recipe or two, and that only makes me relevant to those who can use those things. I do a good bit of charity work, and if I can make some other people aware then that’s helpful. Unfortunately, for charity to be successful, people have to be in need, and I find that a sad irony. I’d much rather have no charity work to do, if you look at it that way.

Everyday, I try to make a small difference. I take the time to distract the toddler who is on the edge of a tantrum while their parent is trying to get through the shopping. I smile and crack a joke to try to make stressed people smile back, to share something. I pick up trash when I hike, I stop and say hello to the homeless guy who reads in the parking lot where I shop. I bring him some lunch and we discuss books. He has a nerve disease and it’s hard for him to get the words out, but he’s smart and literate, and I know it makes a difference to him that I see him as a person, who has so much to offer.

Because we all do. My question is in what way do you want to be relevant? I can break it down for you. It’s easy. Do you want to be envied or helpful? You can of course, be both, but your intention cannot be split. You can love the art of acting, and want to be successful at it, to elevate everyone involved, that’s helpful! I’m not discounting that but there’s more. When I compare my having acted in a sixty million dollar movie to the importance of the work the oncology doctors I know do, I blush with insignificance. When I see a great teacher getting through to kids enough to inspire a love a learning, I rejoice for that great success.

By all means, pursue your love, act on your passions, take those chances! Whatever you do, do it well. The reward should be that you tried and learned. Leave a trail of smiles and encouragement in your wake. The smartest life choices include all that will make you and those around you truly happy. The hollowest choices  are those you make because you think they are what someone else wants. That is a mistake I see happening again and again. It’s a mistake I made again and again.

So why am I relevant now? I’m not, but if I can remind one of you that you really count, or that I am awed by your everyday kindness and patience, then I’m happy, because that’s what I want now. Not to be relevant, but to make you feel that way.

Because you are. There’s always someone prettier, younger, smarter, more talented, or richer, and there always will be.

But there will never be another you.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, March 22, 2016

Life in General

Speaking Second

With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!
With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!

A few days ago, I spoke at a fundraising luncheon for the La Canada Flintridge Orthopedic Guild. About three hundred or so people attended. It was lovely. Before my little ramblings, they played a short video that introduced our guests of honor. The video told the story of two young girls, both of them albinos, who lived in Tanzania. In some places in Africa, albinos are considered to have magical properties and they are hunted for their body parts.

Though the Guild raises money for a hospital here, they have branched out to help special kids worldwide. As they explained this in the video, they showed how these innocent young girls had lost their parents, and the younger had had her leg chopped off with a machete, and then left to bleed to death. Her older sister helped her, and she survived, but not with adequate medical care or a prothesis, (artificial limb) that worked for her.

So this incredible group flew them both over and provided the care and rehabilitation that they needed. Months of planning and giving and work went into this enterprise, I was awed by the commitment of this group. They have done so much and helped so many people.

Enter me, to their upscale ladies’ charity luncheon. After the short video, which left me in weeping, they brought the girls up. They are sixteen and fifteen, but so very much more childlike than the precocious mall-shopping teenagers most of us are familiar with. Very shyly, standing straight and proud on her new prothesis, the younger girl gave her thanks for all that had been done for her, and her older sister asked to sing a song she had written about their experience.

I don’t remember all the words, but the first verse was about realizing her mother was dead, and the refrain went, “And I cry and I cry, and I shout and I shout, I’m so tired of all the killing.” It was amazing, she sang it with no accompaniment and it was heartrendingly beautiful and moving. And then it was my turn to get up and speak.

The Chairman introduced me  as I was still drying my eyes and trying to clear my throat. I took the mike, walked to the front of this group of charitable people, and said, “I’m supposed to follow that?”

I mean, come on! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage for actors, ‘never work with children or dogs’ because they steal the stage? How about two children who have overcome unbelievable odds just to survive? Who were still so kind and gentle and loving that I wanted to hug them and not stop. I had planned to talk about the courage of some of the families I work with in my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, but the stage was stolen by compassion, by innocence, by courage, and nothing I could have said about bravery and hardship would have meant more. That’s as it should be.

So I changed it up. I talked a bit about my book, about the character of Ellen and how in “Becoming Ellen” she realizes that it’s not enough to just come out of her shell and participate, she realizes that she must contribute to the whole to be whole, something all these people understood. I talked about how my mother, who was there, had raised me to be helpful and kind, and how I had passed those values on to my daughters who still accompany me to many of my charity’s events, including helping to decorate the wards for holidays and the annual PJ party, when they get to meet the kids. From this experience, they grew up knowing that people are people, no matter how they look or how ill they may be.

Then I moved on to discuss the changing landscape of my life now that my girls are growing up. I told them how my husband and I were discussing how integral the girls’ lives and education had been in our everyday lives. Now with one at college and the other one driving, I find myself with more time on my own. I told this crowd of beautifully dressed and graciously behaved men and women that one day, Joseph had looked at me and said, “What are we going to do when they’re gone baby?”

And I’d said, “We’re gonna’ make love in the kitchen.” I mean, I’ll miss the buggers on a day to day basis, sure, but there’s something to be said for getting some freedom back. I might even be able to write several hours uninterrupted...in a row! And I’ll have more time to help others, to do more for the community, to interact one on one with so many miraculous people in the world. They really are out there, and sometimes, they come to visit when you least expect it. Of all the roles we all play in our lives, there is always one that is the most basic and true.

No matter how many parts we take on, how many different jobs we find ourselves doing in our lives, it’s important not to forget the real one, to be you. For me that means lots of laughter, work, and hours of doing nothing other than searching for beauty. Sometimes I find it in the sky, sometimes in water, and very often, in the smile of a child who has suffered beyond belief, but who is not only happy, but grateful.

What more is there to say?

Love to you all.

Shari, November 1, 2015

Life in General

My Happy Wrinkles.

Who wouldn't want this feeling and all the expression it brings?!
Who wouldn’t want this feeling and all the expression it brings?!

There are milestones in life that we look forward to. Mostly when we’re younger, of course. When you  are five it feels like Christmas or your birthday will never come. You wonder in July if it’s too early to start the list for your Santa letter, and then comes the cruelty of December when gifts start to show up under the tree but you can’t open them yet! Then at fifteen it’s “Mom, mom, mom, MOM! When can I get my driver’s license?” (a word that is interchangeable with freedom at that age.) Then it’s can’t wait for 21 so I can legally drink a beer, which seems only fair, since you’ve been legally able to die for your country since you were 18. Of course, you can get yourself a fully automatic assault rifle and a grenade launcher before you go to kindergarten—”Go ‘Merica! We’re number one!” Why? “Because my toddler can open carry! I don’t got no college fund for him, but I got him this here arsenal! Feel the freedom!!” Of course that a slight exaggeration—key word, slight. (I’m from Georgia. Seen it, lived it, was horrified by it.)

But now, I have a really big milestone coming up. I mean, this is the queen mother of entitlement. In November I will be 55 years of age and I can order off the senior menu. The anticipation is exquisite. Hell, I even heard that Red Lobster will send a bus to pick me up. Bring on the cheese biscuits!

Sweet!! I will get discounts at so many places, and as a second plus, I can be crabby and bitch about the ‘good old days’ and nobody gets to tell me to buck up and get over it. Which is ironic, because I wouldn’t go backwards for all the wrinkle-free skin in California. That’s not so much of a sacrifice, since so much of that ‘younger looking skin’ was created by botulism poison or the surgeon’s knife, and I’m am not okay with that! No because I think it’s unnatural or any crap like that, but because I earned these wrinkles, and dammit, I’m keeping them! Why would I want to erase my smiles or my tears or my most fabulous adventures walking through rainstorms alone or sailing in a rough sea with my brother when we were teens. I’ll keep my moments, and if you think for one minute I care that someone says I look older, you’re right. It makes me happy!!

What a relief growing older has been really. I get to be friends with women without them feeling they have to resent or compete with me, or vice-versa. Men believe that I’m intelligent without that pathetically ignorant look of surprise on their face when I use big words and know what they mean, (and they often don’t.)

At one of my last doctor’s visit, I told my physician, who has known me for many years socially as well as a doctor, that I thought I was having memory loss because sometimes I occasionally couldn’t think of the right word. He laughed, really loud, and then said, “No, I think that’s just you trying to find the perfect word. Big difference.” Bastard wouldn’t even give me an out.

My husband thinks I need a hearing aid, but I’m too smart to tell him he mumbles sometimes. (In my experience, which is vast because, as previously stated, I’m old, it’s easier not to contradict your mate unless it’s life-threatening.) Oh, and please don’t try to tell me some crucial piece of information from your desk in the library while I’m standing at the sink in the kitchen with the water and the dishwasher running simultaneously. I may have lost some hearing range, but I prefer to think of it as hearing selectively. Another benefit to aging. You can pretend the people at the table next to you did not just say something that stupid.

Because my life long impulse has been to correct people, to call them on their bs. I’m still that way when I feel people are being cruel or unfair, I’m not afraid of a fight. If there’s one thing I have learned it’s that some people never do. To me, learning is everything. It’s the point. You can’t ever know everything. But if you keep listening and reading and learning, then knowledge of life and love is the penultimate experience. (That means next to last. Last of course, is death and what comes after, we don’t get to know that until the train leaves the station.)

As always, it comes to choices. I still love the Christmas season, which I define as whatever you choose to celebrate, religion, mythology, philosophy, the seasons, nature, etc. but it’s about the giving now. My favorite part is making Advent calendars for my nieces and nephews. I wrap 24 tiny presents for each of them and number them with the days. They’ve been such a big success that even at 17 and 18, they still enjoy them. Look under (“How to be the favorite Aunt” in my archives for tips.)

I love my birthday because it’s in fall, my favorite season, and because I went into labor with my second child on that day and her birthday is the next day. In truth, I feel guilty about my birthday because people always feel like they should do something for you. I think they should do something for my mom, she’s the one who did all the work! So I send her flowers or call her to wish her happy ‘birth’ day. As a milestone, birthdays don’t count as much to me. But this one…55!

So psyched! I’ll even get 30 percent off on Tuesdays at my favorite thrift store.

I’ll just have to wait for, let’s see, seven Tuesdays. It would be six, but my birthday is on a Wednesday this year.

Come on 55! I feel like a kid again.

Shari, Oct. 8th, 2015

Life in General

Ch…ch…ch…ch…changes.

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Turn and face the world. David Bowie’s brilliant talent aside, this is something we choose to do or not to do every day. Every moment, in fact. I’ve had so many big changes in my life, living in different cities, married to different men, raising two very different daughters, careers, becoming an aunt who loves and participates in her nieces and nephews lives. All of these things have shaped me, like those ripples that change the surface, but never leave the stream, I’m still me.

Of course, I’m a bit more faceted than I once was. I often recognize the old ego and focus on appearances, which was so prevalent in my younger self, in others. When they are young people, it always makes me smile. I have no patience, however, for grown ups who continue to live their lives that way. That false presentation of self is despicable to me. Yes, your life is about you, but as you mature, if you don’t realize that life is also about your sharing it with others, then you have missed out. You are as one dimensional as a glossy photo, and worth no more. What we want, what fills us truly and makes us rich, are each of those cuts on the raw diamond, that harsh raking and splitting of a substance that seemed too hard and solid to ever alter, followed by the buffing, until the shine and sparkle come through. Those changes, those trials, are the very thing that makes me prismatic, that take ordinary light and turns it to rainbows when viewed through my eyes and heart.  My life, without my family, my daughters, my charity, and my acknowledgment of the worth of others, would be dull and opaque. Even with all the drama. (And with three brilliant siblings and eight remarkable cousins, believe me, I know drama!)

My recent changes? I have one magnificent daughter who turned twenty-one. When I went up to visit her, she took me to dinner at the nicest restaurant in her college town and paid the check. It was weird. But I was so proud. Just as proud that one of my ‘other’ daughters, (my name for friends of my daughters who I love and care for with cutting depth) was the chef. I was amazed, and so proud that the lovely table blurred before my eyes as tears of happiness for her overwhelmed me.

And at the same time, my youngest daughter got a car. Wow. Suddenly, I find myself getting up to make her lunch, and then sending her off to school. All of a sudden, I’m not as necessary. All at once, I have time that I didn’t have before. And…while that’s great, I miss it. It’s a loss. It’s a change, and it’s all worth it.

Because if it weren’t for loving someone more than myself, if it weren’t for learning to sometimes put others first, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I feel really sorry for the women I meet who are jealous of the attention their husband might give to their step-children, sorry for fathers or mothers who spent all their time promoting themselves, sorry for people that never visit their aging parents and just sit and talk, even if they’re bored, I’m sorry that they missed the point. To love someone that much is not a sacrifice, it is a gift.

Realizing the truth of that is the only way I’ve survived working with a charity where the kids sometimes don’t make it. It’s worth having known these amazing kids, these short-lived butterflies, these wildflowers, who shine out all too briefly, but brilliantly in our world. The gift of perspective they give us is beyond my power of words. It is the gift of choice—will I enter this drama? will I stress about money? will I feel victimized if someone says untrue things about me? No. It isn’t important. The other greatest gift I have received from these relationships is the elation of a cancer in remission, or the nameless void of death. I can and will cry for each of them, feeling that grief or that joy deeply is part of my base, my foundation, it keeps me honest and true to myself. It reminds me why I am here.

I’ve been asked to write a memorial service for City of Hope, which they have every year, for all the children we’ve lost. About two hundred families attend. There is a tree and every family puts their child’s name on the tree, then there is a small presentation, and that’s my part, then a non-denominational ‘service.’ The doctor in charge has asked me to make a twenty minute ‘show’ out of “The Little Prince.” This will include a staged show with a few actors, a narrator, and, of course, I will include the laughing stars. He asked if I would narrate it, and the truth is…I can’t.

I am wired to feel things very strongly. I cannot see damage or cruelty and look away. No trip to the mall will make me forget the unkind words of an abusive parent. There is no way I can narrate the story of “The Little Prince” to that group and still be able to speak. And they deserve someone who can get through it, they will have sorrow enough of their own. These people, every one, are special, their lives have been touched by a unique person who has left them. I honor them all, and while I share their grief, it does not belong to me.

A gathering of angels. That’s what it is. And I will be lucky enough to stand beneath those stars, to share in that stream of humanity connected by empathy. That is why my writing, and my life, have changed for the better, because I have turned to face those changes. And the fact that my daughters have stood here with me, so many times, has made them the exceptional diamonds that they are.

Yes, the stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels are laughing at me.

And I am content.

Shari, March 22nd, 2015.

acting, Entertainment, film, makeup, mental illness, movies, New Novels, schizophrenia

Sometimes I Scare Myself.

Not my best day. photo by John Dlugolecki

This image of me is a work of art featuring makeup by an incredible artist named Devan Weitzman.  I realized when I looked at this picture, how my priorities have changed over the last trio of decades, and all I have to say is…what a relief!

I spent my teen years as a competitive ice skater, so I understood that hard work, and artistic ability were things that fulfilled me, that moved and motivated me. But then the day came when modeling, and then commercials, became my bread and butter, my entire value was suddenly based on how I looked, not necessarily by me, but by the people with whom I worked. In that business, it was a somewhat understandable—if horrible—place to have your self-worth centered. I remember how important it was to always look ‘sexy’ and ‘attractive.’ I was proud to be the one on the cover of the magazines, on the billboard, or the one who turned heads when I walked through a restaurant. I was proud, because it’s all I had to be proud of then. Without realizing it, I became more and more discontent, distressed, and unfulfilled. But, of course, since I had what others wanted, I was not allowed to express any unhappiness. I didn’t even understand that I was unhappy, and certainly not why.

And then I went on a remarkable photo shoot.

There was a model in Atlanta, I cannot remember her name! because she was a few years ahead of me. When I was starting out, she was winding down. I’d heard about her, and seen her picture everywhere, but we had never worked together. Then one day we were booked to do a swimwear ad featuring us on a bicycle built for two. We shot together, and then each had a turn alone. I was so interested, (and yes, invidiously so) to see why everyone thought she was so great. I was ‘a model with a brain’ so I was well known for using the area, theme, space, movement, and being creative, but I always, of course, focused on looking ‘good.’ So I took my turn and then she was up. I stood in the dark behind the photographer to watch and learn, like the Chinese stealing trade secrets.

She did a few shots of standard smiling or pouting poses and then she did something that shocked me. She pretended to have slipped and hit her crotch on the cross bar, and she did this ugly, ugly, pained face.

And it was fabulous!! In that silly moment, I realized that there was so much more to being a contributing talent than just looking ‘good.’ It was clear to me that because she was less inhibited, she was just plain better at it than me!

Now, no one’s ever accused me of being inhibited, mind you, that was just a step up to being able to see the value of being a character, instead of a face/body.   A realization, in fact, that ‘unattractive’ could be brilliant!! That producing something from the inside out was far more rewarding. And—here’s the secret—It’s much more fun!!! When I came to LA, I deliberately worked on characters in class like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or one of the witches from Macbeth. And it was really terrifying for me, as it would be for so many women and girls who equate ‘ugly’ with bad. We who were told when we raised our voices, or argued with authority, that we were ‘acting ugly.’ And God forbid we were deemed unattractive by a society that worships beauty.

Taking my ‘ugly’ characters out in public showed me how differently people treated me, though i was the same person inside, and that inspired me to write “Invisible Ellen.”

Thankfully, things are changing, women are increasingly being valued for who they are and what they do, but we have a long way to go. And girls, you all need to get on board! Don’t let men make you compete with yourself or others, and instead of tearing other women down, build them up!! Root for them, cheer for them, chant their name as they go in on the same audition as you are! After all, we’re all on the same team, and isn’t it great to celebrate a thousand victories than to hoard a few of your own and resent everyone else’s?

Theater and acting helped me change my center of self-worth. I was desperate for substance and creativity as opposed to surface appearance. I learned to work in a company, a group, be a part of a whole, and be proud of my talent and hard work instead of my blonde hair and athletic body. I got my worth back.

And now, full circle. In “Scream at the Devil” I play a schizophrenic who is anything but concerned about her looks. She recedes into madness until she’s terrified by every sound and flash of light, and that is what’s important.

“Scream at the Devil” opens Oct 24th at the North Hollywood Laemmle, and plays through Halloween. If you want to check out the theatre page and watch the trailer to see just how far down I can get, here you go— http://www.laemmle.com/films/38650

This character and her pain aren’t pretty, and that’s why I’m so proud of it.

And now I am happy.

Shari, October 9th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, mental illness

The Now on which the Shadow Stands.

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Loving life…all of it!!

This is one of my favorite quotations. As far as I  know the author is anonymous, and this poem is inscribed on the base of a sun dial at a University.

The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour, 
In darkness, and beyond thy power.
Behind its unreturning line, 
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,-
The NOW on which the shadow stands.

The reason I’m sharing this today is that I’ve had a sort of time warp jump illustrated to me in my life, perhaps in a way, a very external one, that few people will experience.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve done a film or TV. I have no regrets.  I’m so glad I took the time to be with my girls, and there’s no question that the theatre I did in that time has made me twice the actress I was before, but what an interesting thing to see myself on film again with a decade jump.

Now, forty to fifty is a big leap, and Scream at the Devil is far from a Vanity piece. You don’t play a woman tortured by schizophrenia with full make up and fake eyelashes. Not if you want any kind of reality, and I certainly did. Actually, I’m fifty-two now, so call it a dozen years. And I look different. I’m in good shape, but I have cellulite, and a few more pounds. I have the same cheekbones, but the skin is a big looser around my mouth. My eyes crinkle when I smile, and let’s face it, extreme emotion is seldom physically flattering.

And I’m all right with that. Of course, editing is a strange process, you can, and often have to, change the tempo of scenes, choose shots that make the scene work or fit into the other actor’s improvised lines, it’s not anything like choosing the best still photos from your vacation or head shot shoot. What I’m hoping for here is a performance that moves those who see it, and that honors the suffering of those affected by crushing mental illness and chemical imbalance.

I know, though I don’t care all that much, that people will judge my appearance in this film, and compare it to my much younger self. Why? I don’t know. I suppose as actors and performers and even as a people, we have allowed judgement of physicality and age to so infect our perceptions that even the judged have bought into it.

Big mistake. And here’s why. I don’t care how young you are, how beautiful, how sexy, or how much you place your self-value in those traits, you will age. And I wish for you the same joy in it that I have found.

I’ve never been happier, or felt more beautiful. It makes me so sad when I see women who are in their fifties still trying to sell themselves as ‘sexy.’ Not that they aren’t, of course, they are, but it’s a different sexy, it’s a confident, feeling sexual and contented on the inside instead of counting on others feeling that you are what you want to be.

Does that make sense? Once when I was in an intensive scene study class, a very attractive blonde young actress was struggling to do a scene from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and the coach was trying to get her to embrace Maggie’s sultry, seething sexuality, but she just coudn’t. Finally I said, “I can help her!”

David, the coach, looked at me and said, “Fine, Shari Shattuck wants to tell someone how to play sexy. Please, yes, be my guest.”

Instead of speaking up in front of everyone, I left my seat, went down to the stage and whispered in her ear, “It’s not about ‘acting’ sexy, it’s about feeling turned on, feeling sexual.”

She nodded, started the scene again and virtually slithered over furniture and the actor playing Brick like a cat in heat.

David turned to me and said, “What the f*ck did you say?”

I just winked at the actress and said, “It’s a secret.”

But it’s not, or it shouldn’t be. Ladies, gentlemen, embrace your age, be the best you can be, and smile at the fact that the twenty-somethings will get more attention than you. That’s okay, it’s a relief really, to stop being thrown into the arena of physical competition. Don’t let anyone do that to you anymore, and don’t, please, I’m begging you, do it to yourself.

I’m very excited about my life now. I’m calmer and happier, and more fulfilled and focused than ever before. I have as much, maybe more energy than I did in my twenties, I am so much better at dividing my time and knowing what I want and who I want to spend my time with. What a gift!

Take that gift, reach out and grab it. Unwrap it and smile and rejoice. The gift of now, the culmination of all your work, realizations, epiphanies, emotional growth, and wisdom.

Who could ask for anything more?

With love and contentment,

Shari. June 30th, 2013.

Life in General

The Incredible Beauty of Age.

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My husband Joseph and I were on the Grand Canal in Venice watching the palazzos slide by and I commented that it would have been remarkable to have seen it in it’s youth, when the buildings were covered in frescos and mosaics of gold and brilliant color glinted in the sunlight.

And he smiled gently and said, “It’s remarkably beautiful now.”

He’s right of course. Spending time in a different culture is beneficial in so many ways, the food, the history, the art, the language, all of these fill me with a sense of hugeness, and of the rapid passage of time. The diversity and unfamiliarity offer a sense of perspective that what we value in one small part of the world can often be incidental, or even distasteful, in another. This is important to realize and crucial to remember.

Even the faces here are different. One thing I noticed right away was the handsomeness of the elderly, especially the couples. There is a distinct difference in what is considered valuable here, and as a result, I have not once seen a woman who has destroyed her identity with plastic surgery.

People age here, and they do it gracefully. It would appear that they spend their lives living, experiencing what life has to offer with relish. What a wonderful reminder for me at 52, I have always preferred looking my age to looking desperate to be younger, it has always made me sad to see the artificiality that our society so often deems attractive. Of course, I live in Los Angeles, the city of surfaces. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, for goodness sake, wax that hair or have that mole removed, or maybe get a small tuck if something bothers you. Many of the older women here in Venice wear subtle makeup and dress exquisitely.  They look their age, and their best. I have several friends back in the states who have had ‘work’ done that makes them looks as though they just had a restful vacation. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m referring to abusing the knife until the individuality is lost. In my humble opinion, it does not improve their appearance, only neuters it.

I’m not judging other’s choices or actions, to each their own. I color the gray out of my hair, because it isn’t flattering to my skin, but I’m looking forward to it arriving at a tone I can leave. I use creams and lotions and in a few years I may have my loosening jaw tightened, not because I want to look younger, but because I think being jowly makes me look mean, and if there is a way I want to look, it is kind.

The wrinkles can stay, I don’t mind them. In fact, I not only like them, I earned them. And for anyone to tell me that the results of the laughter and suffering in my life, the wind on my face as I walked in nature’s beauty or the storms I have braved for adventure, have made me ugly, shows that it is not my skin that is unattractive, but their superficial insecurity. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of beauty. 

How frustrating it must be to feel that you should look decades younger than you are. How positively awful to judge yourself by what someone shallow enough to place your value there would think, or for that matter, what anyone but you would think. And shame on anyone who judges only the outside, they are missing all that is important. 

I have, as they say in Italian, five decades, in a blink I will have six, and if I’m lucky, seven and then even maybe, eight.

And I want to look beautiful—and eighty. I want my eyes to shine as the crinkles radiate from them and my smile to deepen my laugh lines until the story of my extraordinary life is written on my face. No one but me will have my unique memories, will have seen and felt the experiences I have had. That is precious to me.

They have a saying here in Italy, “If you are fortunate, you will get old” It doesn’t matter what you do to try to hide it, you will age. Why not appreciate the value and beauty of that? When did we forget to honor age and the passage of years? To see it as something magnificent in itself? 

I will look at this ancient city and see the crumbling walls and the fading frescoes and listen to the secrets that they whisper and see the magnificence that stands, more graceful and vibrant for the time that has brushed them, and I will feel overwhelmed with life, with death, with the beauty of centuries, of ages, past and present.

Venerable Venice, it is always the same for me, I am awed. And the millennium that have passed over and through it make me smile with my heart.

We are not so different, after all. I will grow old, and I’m content with that. And I know that my husband will never look at me and say, how beautiful I was, wishing that he could see me then, he will smile softly at my old face and say, “You are amazingly beautiful now.”

And he will mean it.

Amore da Venezia

Shari, February 24, 2013